Politics

Did Deval Patrick Launch His 2020 Campaign Too Late?

His concerns about the limitations of the current field date back to at least July, when he sat in the audience at the Demcoratic debate in Detroit. Afterward, he talked with friends and aides about what he was seeing in the race: The candidates weren’t focusing on what was really wrong with America, he told people. He was dismayed with how much time was being spent talking about health-care plans that had no chance of ever happening. The big reform ideas being discussed—such as getting rid of the Electoral College or expanding the Supreme Court—were far-fetched and still seemed fixated on settling scores from the 2016 election. Yesterday, he said that Joe Biden’s “empathy” hadn’t broken through, and that Elizabeth Warren was running the “best and most disciplined campaign out there,” but “the business of advancing an agenda once elected is a different undertaking.”

Quietly, in the past six weeks, Patrick resigned from the board of the Obama Foundation. He met with the campaign experts who were still available, who walked him through the mechanics of organizing delegates and filing for primaries. He started talking with people he trusted about jumping in. “As a citizen, I’d be thrilled,” he said people told him when he asked if he should run, but “as your friend, I wish you wouldn’t.” Sometime in the past two weeks, he told me, he had a long conversation with his wife, Diane, who had previously been opposed to a presidential run. Last year, Patrick said he wasn’t running because of Diane’s uterine-cancer diagnosis. This time she is on board.

Patrick told me that he knows how far behind he is, but said that he “already has the bones of a good team“—and that he was excited that 1,000 people had, by his first afternoon in the race, signed up on his website to volunteer, providing him with “practical and psychic fuel.” Operatives on other campaigns scoff at this, saying he has no idea how much he’s lagging on logistics and fundraising and hiring and infrastructure-building.

“I don’t have any illusions about how hard it is,” Patrick said. “But others shouldn’t have any illusions about my resolve.”

I accompanied Patrick up to the second floor of the statehouse, to watch him carry out the longest-running ritual in presidential politics: writing a check for the primary filing fee while Bill Gardner, New Hampshire’s secretary of state since 1976, gives the 10-minute history of the state’s primary that he makes every candidate sit through.

Since 1952, when changes to the state’s voting laws made the New Hampshire primary a bellwether of national politics, 14 of the 17 winners have gone on to become president, Gardner told Patrick. The others came in second.

“That’s a lot of pressure you’re putting on me right now,” Patrick said.


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